After six months in Australia we have left this incredible country for the tropical delights of Fiji, and it’s time to reflect on our experience. Rather than a rehash of our itinerary we thought we’d run through some of the things that delighted us, some which left us slightly bemused and others that are just plain interesting. They are in no particular order and we aren’t telling you which fall into those three categories. However, we should say that the verdict on Oz is overwhelmingly positive. This is a truly great country that has so much to offer.
We’ve been salties on this trip, sticking to the coastline starting in Perth and wandering down to Margaret River and Albany in WA, before hopping across to Adelaide. From there we traversed the coastline east and north all the way up to Cape Tribulation with just a couple of gaps. We haven’t seen any of the interior, Northern Territories, Alice Springs or Uluru, all of which will have to remain on the “to do” list, and gives us a great excuse to return – which we definitely will.
We’ve seen a lot of beaches in the past twelve months. Many of the places we visited in South East Asia are held up as “must-see” or bucket list destinations for any self-respecting traveller who loves the feel of sand between their toes. But let’s be absolutely clear about this – they don’t hold a candle to the beaches we have visited all over Australia.
We aren’t talking the headline grabbers like Bondi, Manly, Glenelg or Noosa either. It’s the unheralded ones you discover that overwhelm you with their beauty: pristine water; next to no one on them; not a scrap of litter; and not a hotel or avenue of sun-beds and loungers in sight. Archetypical Aussie heaven.
House and Pet Sitting
We will never be able to thank our friends Deano and Leesa enough for putting us onto the idea of house and pet sitting our way around Australia. It completely changed our thinking on how to traverse the country and in doing so opened up a new way of travelling and experiencing Australia. Living like a local in a neighbourhood, saving oodles of money on accommodation and being able to self-cater, spending time with some absolutely gorgeous animals and meeting wonderful people whose homes and pets we had the pleasure to take care of.
We ended up doing sits from Fremantle to Cairns, with Adelaide, Hobart, Brisbane, and Maryborough in between.
We started off with mad Max, the crazy and lovable nine month old Kelpie, and finished with Xena, a gentle giant Great Dane. But our favourite two were sheepdog Harley in Adelaide – our morning walks on the glorious Grange beach were the perfect way to start each day.
…and Sprocket a weimerarner from Nudgee Beach, Brisbane. A swimming marvel who rang a bell with her nose when she wanted to go outside. She was our pacesetter as we ran around Boondall Wetlands and caught the running bug.
We only had one cat to look after – Leo in Maryborough, who was so easy to care for that we really felt we should be working harder.
There seems to be a very strong house / pet sit culture in Australia and with really slick, simple to use websites it took us just a week between registering our details and landing our first sit.
It doesn’t matter how often you see a kangaroo, you never get bored of them. Even over five months into a trip we got excited spotting one lounging on a lawn on Daydream Island in the Whitsundays.
Inevitably they are the poster boys/girls of the wildlife, with the Koala probably coming a close second. These gorgeous creatures are starting to become threatened and an Australia without Koala’s would be unthinkable. They were flourishing on Raymond Island though and we delighted in seeing so many of them amongst the Eucalyptus trees.
We saw few snakes and spiders – just enough to remind us that they are around, but not enough to have us nervously watching our every step. The two surprises for us were wombats – they are HUGE balls of furry gorgeousness….
Less lovely, and something you certainly wouldn’t want to try cuddling, are cassowaries. But they are magnificent creatures, who along with the crocodiles of northern Queensland seem to maintain a modern-day link with a pre-historic past. Just don’t go too close to either of these!
Dolphins, devils, dingoes, wallabies, pademelons, penguins, pelicans, possums (heard, not seen), monitor lizards, wild pigs…the list of weird, wonderful Aussie critters goes on and on.
We aren’t twitchers, but you can’t fail to be impressed by the colourful birdlife that routinely fly by – although there were a few times we could have strangled one or two with their early morning alarm calls.
Gawd Bless You Ma’am!
For reasons we can’t understand the country still has the British Monarchy as Head of State and the Governor General. Guys/girls, when are you going to cut the apron-strings? You are a proud, fantastic, independent nation tens of thousands of miles from the UK, you are even in a different hemisphere for God’s sake! And let’s be honest, we are a bit crap right now!
A Climate To Die For
It seems to be stating the bleeding obvious that the weather in Oz is wonderful, but it really is worth repeating. During the summer you can feel the warmth right through to your bones – as Poms there’s no better feeling than gently cooking on a day in mid-December. After S/E Asia it was a wonderful dry heat rather than oppressive humidity, although reaching Cairns quickly reminded us of what living in a tropical climate is like.
And with a bit of careful planning as Autumn sets in in the south and temperatures start to dip towards a shocking 20 degrees…..you can start to head north to maintain that year round summer feel. Not that it was wall to wall sunshine. Melbourne gave us a bit of everything, Sydney got a bit soggy, and we saw snow in Tassie!
Well…. what can you expect from the nation that has given us Neighbours, Home and Away, and The Sullivans. The fare is pretty meagre and is very UK content focussed. You know things are dire when you are looking forward to watching an episode of “Call the Midwife”. ABC seemed to be the only channel offering any in depth current affairs / political analysis. Having said that when we got more into the sticks i.e. Queensland, there were some toe-curlingly hilarious adverts on local TV channels where the marketing budget must have stretched into literally tens of dollars. This is when the Netflix subscription really pays off.
The Outdoor Life
With the the climate comes a culture that is all about the outdoor life – especially the beach and the sea, and a lot of the Aussies we saw make the most of it.
It’s fantastic seeing so many people from the very young to the very old swimming, surfing, sailing, kayaking….giving off this great vibe of healthy physical activity.
One of the most charming examples of this was watching a large group of young school-children being taught to surf on the beach at Lorne – what a fabulous classroom! We are so envious of weather that breeds such an active and fun-filled lifestyle, and we loved our time messing about on the water, a particular highlight was sailing a mini-catamaran on the Swan River in Perth.
….and our paddle-boarding has come on leaps and bounds – entirely the wrong description for an activity that mostly involves standing still!
The novelty of being able to enjoy open-air cinemas is something we will never tire of or fail to appreciate. Watching great films curled up under the stars with a beer in hand remains a treasured memory.
Aussie pubs, with a couple of honourable exceptions we experienced in Sydney, just aren’t proper pubs – not in the way we know and love them in the UK. More often than not they are part bookies, part hotel, with too many screens showing too many Aussie Rules Football games. Odd.
Although we said we wouldn’t list the places we went, an honourable mention must go to this wonderful diverse island. From the moment we drove out of the airport at Lonnie we felt a different atmosphere. Tassie has it all, scenery, wildlife, history, and culture including one of the very best art galleries in the world.
Understandably many travellers with limited time head to Melbourne, Sydney, and the Great Barrier Reef, so Tassie remains a bit off the beaten track. But during our visit we sensed that real efforts are being made to draw more visitors to this corner of Australia and it really is worth the effort of spending at least a week, but preferably longer here.
Anger is an Energy
It’s fascinating to see the struggle the country is having on the future of coal mining. An industry that flies in the face of a climate change movement that is getting louder and more youthful; but employs so many people, particularly in rural areas where there appears to be no Plan B for communities that would probably die without it. Ask any two Aussies about their views on the proposed Adani mining project and you would probably get four opinions. It feels as though the time has come to make a real leap to sustainable and clean energy, but at the moment that step seems to risk political suicide. Our abiding memory on climate change was experiencing 48 degrees in Adelaide: interesting for about five seconds, after that it was not fun.
We noticed a strong awareness and celebration of the history and legacy of indigenous people, especially on the east coast. More controversially the growing number of people protesting Australia Day which they rename Invasion Day was interesting to witness on 26th January. With the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival due to be marked in 2020 expect to see more acrimonious demonstrations and divisions on this increasingly contentious view of history.
Town Planning / Architecture
A strange mix. Sadly a lot of the smaller towns and main streets comprise of low rise, unimpressive, bland development with no character. Big, garish signage dominate the streets with no thought to appearance or aesthetic appeal. One characterless settlement just merged into the next. The big cities – especially Adelaide – did offer some lovely respite from the uniformity, with its impressive Victorian city centre.
Melbourne also has a wonderfully atmospheric centre and grid system, that is really attractive with stylish arcades and impressive buildings.
On a smaller scale Fremantle is full of historic buildings that have been conserved and act as a lovely contrast to the modernity of Perth.
Maryborough was also exceptional but unlike bustling Freo suffers from too many vacant retail units in its CBD.
Of course there are architectural gems that stand out, with Sydney’s combination of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Harbour and Botanical Gardens combining to create one of the iconic urban settings of the country, and indeed the world.
Brutal rugged landscapes, windswept isolated coastline, towering volcanic mountains, sumptuous valleys, gushing rivers and waterfalls, dense pre-historic forests, vibrant coral-reefs, mysterious mangroves, inexplicable sand islands, incredible lakes,….do you get the picture?
Yes, it is an enormous country so you would expect a fair share of wonder, but that doesn’t make it any less incredible. The variety is astonishing…and we didn’t even get to the interior!
We don’t have the vocabulary to do the scenery anything like the justice it deserves and we hope the pictures we have posted in our blogs go some way to communicating the awe we regularly experienced as we traversed the country.
We had the bad / good fortune to watch the 2019 Australian Election campaign unfold. As Brits we accept the we are currently sitting in the most fragile and brittle of glasshouses and throwing stones at politics elsewhere is really inappropriate. However, the Aussie Election campaign was shocking for its negative campaigning, especially by the Coalition who only seemed to have one policy – tax cuts benefitting the wealthy. Other than that it was full on negativity about the opposition expansive (probably too expansive) policy agenda. All of which was enthusiastically regurgitated and exaggerated by the Murdoch dominated media. Worse still are the emerging right wing populists who seem to find succour in Queensland. Katter, Hanson and Palmer all represent the horrible face of politics in Australia. You have to pity the Australian public who have to put up with compulsory voting every three years: a shockingly short Parliamentary term. How does anything get done…..yes, I think we all know the answer to that question.
Bob is big on immigration. He represents the Kennedy constituency in Queensland which is slightly bigger in area than Spain (!) and has a registered electorate of 107,000 people (that isn’t a mis-print – yes 107k). It really sounds overrun to us Bob – can’t swing a cat without hitting an immigrant. Our experience of Kennedy was that there are more banana trees and sugar canes than people. Pauline meanwhile runs with the deeply profound strap line “I’ve got the guts to say what you’re thinking“. I think that probably tells you all you need to know about the modestly named Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.
As a huge cricket fan I have had quite a fixed view about Australians…which are not entirely complementary. I have to confess to experiencing unreserved schadenfreude during the ball tampering scandal and the sight of Steve Smith blubbing on TV. Despite these deep rooted prejudices shaped by the likes of Waugh, Warne and Warner, we have to admit the Australians are an incredibly warm and sociable bunch. Friendly welcomes were received wherever we went. Genuine sympathy was offered when the subject of Brexit came up, with Aussies sharing our bewilderment at the self-mutilation of our homeland. We suspect there was some element of relief as well, with the UK drawing unwanted limelight away from the political fratricide soap opera in Canberra. The parkrunning people of Maryborough should get a special mention for their enthusiasm and general loveliness – great ambassadors for their wonderful city.
Fantastic service is the norm and we were especially blessed by the people we met at the AirBnB’s we stayed at and the house sits. Nothing was too much trouble, folks were always keen to share ideas on where to go, what to see and genuinely wanted us to see their country in the best possible light. It was all rather heartwarming. Of course all of the above will become a distant memory the moment the first ball in The Ashes is bowled this summer and I start foaming at the mouth at the sight of Smith and Warner.
Thankfully we jettisoned our original plan to see the country from a van. Discovering house-sitting quickly put paid to that idea. When not sitting we AirBnB’d our way around Australia. With only two exceptions the quality and vfm was outstanding.
We met friendly hosts who went above and beyond in making our stays comfortable. Generally we stay in self-contained AirBnB’s, but where we stayed in the same home as hosts we found that many had such large places that we were as good as in our own place with en-suite facilities. A special mention must go to Lorna in Robe….a perfect AirBnB host and home. Being treated to wine and chocolates on arrival was rather special.
Thank you Australia, you have been one of the most memorable experiences of our lives.
Next Up: Tropical Paradise in Fiji